I had a friend recently say he hated the movie because it was too cliched. Wondering what, exactly, this person was expecting, I quickly came to the film's defense: "Don't you realize that the movie's ambition is to tear down the cliches while giving them a hilariously gigantic reason d'atre?" The film isn't just about five kids who go off to party by the lake, and all the "horror" that premise entails. It's a full-on spoof of movies, audience expectations, the video-game culture, the reality TV boom, and the labeling of personalities (some viewers might look towards the Scream series as a reference point, but this movie is much cleverer than Scream ever was). Also, in the wry scenes that feature Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford as smart-assed scientists (and I'm not giving anything away there, because they're the first characters we see in the film), Cabin freely mocks conspiracy theorists and big-picture seers while admitting that they might indeed be on to something. With every turn of this outlandish riot of a plot--if you choose to read its deeper intentions--there is a new skewer or challenge directed at something occurring in the culture. Or, if you're not into picking your movies apart, you can just sit back and be amazed at where this labyrinth takes you.
The cast is almost uniformly terrific, with Fran Kranz taking the lovability award here with his meek, scratchy-voiced, conspiracy-minded stoner. I really loved a little throwaway moment with Kranz as he's sitting on a bed, anxiously reading a collection of Little Nemo comics and pleading with Nemo to wake up (I laughed hard at this, but almost no one else in the theater did, which shows I'm a real geek). The resourceful Kristin Connelly makes a pretty nifty virgin girl (who's resolutely not a virgin), and Anna Hutchison gets some hot points for her smoldering dance moves and ability to tongue-kiss a wolf's head. The other two guys, Chris Hemsworth and Jesse Williams, are ciphers as the jock and the brain, respectively, but that's okay because they do what's required of them: they make you sort of not care about how this story treats them. And the presence of the wired. scuzzy Whitford and the dutiful Jenkins ups the film's acting gravitas quite a bit. Any time Jenkins, in particular, shows up in a movie, you can feel that film getting better by the second.